Ideas and Impressions: This year’s holiday supper was different

By Jason Moscovitz

The year 2019 ended for me in the same way every year has ended for 39 years. Since 1980, I have had a holiday supper with the same two other couples. It started with the six of us and three little children. By 1990 there were nine children. Today there are 18 grandchildren.

We have seen each other’s children grow, marry and multiply. We have seen ourselves grow from young professionals to senior citizens. Being three journalists around the table always assured spirited conversation about politics and world events coupled with personal stuff about families, friends and acquaintances. A lot happens in four decades.

For all the sameness of any long standing traditional event, this year’s supper was different. The conversational lines of discussion were the same but, I am sorry to say, the tone was not. This year it was hard to turn any conversation to a positive place.

First and foremost, there were some personal health issues around our table this year. Major surgery in one case, ongoing health issues in another, and the aches and medical tests that 70-year-olds go through. All that is manageable and normal. We’re the lucky ones.

By contrast, 2019 was not a good year for so many of our other friends. Heartbreaking stories of friends with lung cancer and brain cancer. At times it seems to be like a bad dream or a bad movie, but the reality is that’s life as old age begins to set in. You’re healthy until you’re not.

A friend of mine whose wife is being treated for lung cancer recently lamented how he and his wife’s beautiful retirement suddenly turned sour. He left me with a haunting image: so happy and free until he found himself pushing his wife in a wheelchair in a cancer ward. There is no warning, and even if there were, there is no preparation for the shockingly abrupt fall from the good life.

It was no accident that brought all this bad health news. People can and do get sick at any time, but 70 seems to be when serious life-threatening illnesses begin to register in significantly higher numbers. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy to avoid the reality of life and death at this year’s dinner.

Our discussion about politics and world affairs fared no better. As 2019 ended, it was hard to elevate our conversation to anywhere near a happy place. Trouble here. Trouble there. Trouble everywhere.

Around the world people are angry for more reasons than anyone can keep track of anymore. Social media fuels the anger, and like those wildfires in Australia, the firestorm of anger engulfs the world.

Raging antisemitism, one of the manifestations of that anger, is in our face. Yes, it is that bad and how much worse can it get is the only question to ask. Thankfully Jews in Canada continue to live comparatively charmed and safe lives, but we can never take it for granted. Not for a second.

At our dinner it was difficult to talk about Israel. It was difficult because of diverging points of view. In 2019, the backdrop to any conversation about Israel was the repeated inability to form a government there. And how about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being formally charged with corruption?

While no one around our table was ever a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump, in the three years since he became president the only thing that has changed is the extent of disbelief about what he says and does. What spooked us this year is how much we now know that we didn’t know three years ago. Simply put, that so many Americans actually like Trump. They like his politics, his bluster, and they share his anger.

As 2019 ended, the impeachment of Trump was all about politics, not justice. The partisan interests of Democrats and Republicans dirtied the impeachment process.

An optimist would shake off a bad year and say 2020 will be better, but we are off to a really scary start. As I write this to deadline, there is no way of knowing the full picture of where Trump’s ordered assassination of a terrorist-supporting Iranian general will lead. After 2019 you have to worry.

Worry for sure, but I know that next year, my friends and I will mark our 40th supper together, and no matter what happens, I know we’ll all be there.